* If a parent has concerns or questions about their young developing child first consult your trusted pediatrician. Many pediatricians have not had sufficient training in knowing the signs of early autism spectrum disorders. If your pediatrician is very experienced, he or she will have a keen sense of atypical development and offer you a referral to a developmental pediatrician or child psychiatrist for a definitive diagnosis.
* If your child is under age 3 years contact your local Regional Center. They are in California, and likely in all states, to offer early diagnosis and intervention. They will evaluate your child and provide remedial services if needed all for free. No charge at all.
* If your child is over age 3 years reach out to your local public school. Even if your child is not enrolled and as long as your residential address falls within the geographical lines of that particular school they, too, must offer free evaluation and remedial services. The challenge is that most schools have suffered financial cuts. To offer free testing and services costs money. Often, they will only identify children who are functioning and performing at a specific number of months or years delayed. Also, there is a time factor. Go straight to the principal’s office and request an IEP (Individualized Education Plan) for your child. Fill out the request form and be sure to have it stamped officially by the school office. In California they have 52 business days to provide completed test results and recommendations to parents.
* Talk with other parents. You will need information, support, and companionship. The hardest part of this process is feeling alone and isolated. You are absolutely not alone. Sadly, many families are affected by autism spectrum disorders.
* Be sure to carve out individual break time for yourself. This can be a relentless process of output for parents. Nourish yourself and refuel.
* Have regular dialogue talk with your spouse/partner. Have a child with special needs puts added stress on the marital relationship.
* Remember to love and accept your child warts and all. We are all flawed human-beings. Having a diagnosis does not change who your child is. He and she are still as lovable as they always were.
* Always balance loving/nurturing with setting/holding boundaries. Each parent must be comfortable doing both at the same time.
Written by Fran Walsh, author of The Self-Aware Parent, available on Amazon.com. It is a guide filled with helpful ways to self-explore and understand ourselves. Each chapter ends with a list of Top Tips for parents. It is a tool for all parents including those with a special needs child.